Tag Archives: reputation

Courtney Bosch-Tanguy
Retail Food Safety Forum

Three Reasons your Restaurant Needs to Take Food Safety Seriously

By Courtney Bosch-Tanguy
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Courtney Bosch-Tanguy

Food that is not only fresh and delicious but is also safe to eat is a must for any restaurant. Foodborne illnesses are a real threat to consumers and can permanently mar the reputation of the chain or restaurant who spreads them. If you’re at risk for serving up a chicken breast with a side of Salmonella or a burger crawling with E. coli, it is just a matter of time before someone gets sick. According to the CDC, about one in six Americans will get sick from a foodborne illness each year; more than 125,000 people per year become ill enough to be hospitalized.

Beyond the moral obligation to serve up quality food and to make sure your customers don’t get sick, attention to food safety can also prevent a public relations nightmare for your brand. The very mention of foodborne illness triggers a connection with Chipotle, even though many of the brand’s news-making outbreaks were over three years ago. Keeping customers, your business, and your reputation safe are just three reasons to incorporate food safety best practices into your daily routine.

Promote Customer Safety

You’re in business to serve your community or a specific population, so it is in your and their best interests to ensure the food you are serving up is not only tasty, but safe as well. Proper attention to everything from handwashing, to choosing the right cutting surfaces, to serving and storing food at the proper temperature, and properly labeling prepared foods and ingredients ensures you’re not harming the very customers you are trying to serve.

When you can be confident that your sanitation, storage and labeling process are the best they can be, you can serve every customer with pride, knowing you’ve provided them with the best possible meal or item. Your customers will know they can patronize your establishment with confidence that you take their safety seriously and are consistently dedicated to quality.

Protect Your Reputation

Chipotle, Taco Bell, and other brands found out the hard way: News spreads fast. In this era of smart phones and instant communication, that hair attached to your pasta is horrifying for more than just the patron who ordered it. With social media at the ready, one mistake could be broadcast to an audience of thousands in just seconds.

In 2015, Chipotle made headlines, for all the wrong reasons. The brand had outbreaks in multiple locations, spanning 11 states. Even after a public and thorough store sanitation and cleansing, consumers and media still question the level of food safety in the brand’s locations and how these outbreaks were handled by the company. Chipotle had a more recent incident this summer. The chain committed to retraining all of its restaurant workers nationwide on food safety after nearly 650 customers became ill from eating at one of its Ohio restaurants. Tests showed sickened customers had Clostridium perfringens, which is a foodborne disease that occurs when food is left at an unsafe temperature.

Taco Bell has been under investigation for foodborne illness multiple times in the past few decades, dating back to 1995. From Salmonella to E.coli, the brand continues to struggle with food safety, making it a frequent target of both the news media and comedians cracking jokes at the brand’s expense.

Protect Your Business

Chipotle suffered in more ways than one during that series of publicized outbreaks. The company’s stocks and profits plummeted, even after the outbreak appeared to be over. Jack in the Box never fully recovered after a tragic case of E. coli outbreak that resulted in the deaths of four children almost two decades ago.

Consumers have long memories, and there is no such thing as an isolated incident anymore. Focusing on food safety in this digital, social-media-powered era is more important than ever before. Simple steps, from properly training your employees about food safety, to implementing the right tools and technology to manage a food safety program, to properly labeling and testing food before you serve it, can help your brand maintain its sterling reputation and keep your customers safe.

Every step you take towards implementing proper food safety protocol is a step in the right direction for your customers, your business, and your reputation.

Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
FST Soapbox

Would Your Team Know How to Handle a Crisis?

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

In 1993, Jack in the Box put foodborne illnesses and food safety “on the map” when their undercooked burgers led to an E. coli outbreak that infected more than 700 people. 171 people were hospitalized and four children died.

Don’t miss the Plenary Discussion on Crisis Management at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreUnfortunately, this infamous outbreak wasn’t an isolated incident. Foodborne illness outbreaks are on the rise in the United States. The CDC reports that 48 million Americans become sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States.

A string of unprecedented outbreaks at Chipotle occurred at multiple locations, beginning in 2015. Recently, there was widespread concern when romaine lettuce tainted with E. coli was shipped, served and sold at restaurants, stores and institutions nationwide. Earlier this year, approximately 2,000 7-Eleven customers at a Utah location were exposed to hepatitis A due to an infected employee who worked (and handled the convenience store’s food) while sick. The state’s local health department announced that anyone who used the restrooms, drank a fountain drink, ate fresh fruit or any item from the store’s hot food case was at risk for infection from the highly contagious illness.

Keep in mind that a crisis isn’t necessarily a foodborne illness. Think about other unexpected crises that could impact your organization, staff and customers, like natural disasters (hurricanes, blizzards, tornados, etc.) What if there’s a robbery, shooting or bombing at your venue? What if a guest chokes and dies? Perhaps there’s an unexpected power outage or a fire? Yes, unfortunately, these are all real possibilities.

If a crisis were to occur at your establishment, would your team know what to do?

As the saying goes, if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. It’s extremely important to be prepared for every type of crisis imaginable—before anything bad actually happens.

When developing a crisis plan, consider and implement the following:

  • Form a crisis management team. Assign roles and responsibilities. Ensure all designated crisis team members understand what’s expected of them in the event of a crisis. For most food businesses, the crisis team will consist of a corporate attorney, company leadership, food safety team, crisis management consultant, a public relations expert, a trained media spokesperson and applicable government agencies.
  • Know how your local health department operates. The role of the local health department varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so get to know your local inspectors. Work with your regulatory agencies, who will want to help.
  • Create honest, authentic and apologetic messaging. This will, of course, need to be developed to meet the specifics of your situation. Regardless of what happened, honestly describe the situation and explain the solutions-focused plan you’ve created to move forward. Transparency is important, otherwise key audiences (customers, employees, media, investors, advertisers, etc.) will lose confidence and trust in your company.
  • Work with the media to disseminate information about the incident. The media want to report what has happened, and it’s in your best interest to be straightforward with them. If there was a breakdown in your process, identify it, whether you received tainted merchandise from a vendor or experienced an error in the kitchen. Explain the concrete steps you’re taking to fix it and prevent a reoccurrence (e.g., selecting different vendors, re-training your staff, adjusting your food allergy protocols, etc.).
  • Train (or re-train) your staff on food safety protocols. Be certain that everyone is knowledgeable about food safety (e.g., how to prevent cross-contamination, how to properly prepare allergy-friendly meals, how to cook foods to proper temperatures, etc.) to avoid similar crisis situations in the future.
  • Use social media wisely. Monitor social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and respond to negative and/or erroneous comments. Messages on social media (as well as in real life) should always be positive, professional and honest. Don’t get defensive and don’t allow yourself to get sucked into toxic, negative message spirals.
  • Communicate with your customers, employees and other key stakeholders to win back their trust. Be honest, sincere and apologetic. Explain how/why their loyalty is so important to you, and vow to earn their trust again.
  • Change vendors, if necessary. Did a vendor mislabel ingredients, causing an allergic reaction in one of your guests? Did they source tainted products and sell them to you? Change vendors, and be clear in your communications (to media, via social media platforms, etc.) that you identified the vendor as the source of the problem, explaining that you’ve cut ties to them to eliminate similar events in the future.
  • Thank the responders that helped. Perhaps your crisis wasn’t a foodborne illness –it was a customer dying of natural causes, a bomb threat, a weather emergency, or an electrical fire. Use the media and social media platforms to thank the police, fire department and/or paramedics—whichever responders helped defuse the situation.
  • Designate a media spokesperson. When facing a serious crisis, your restaurant’s CEO/owner/president should be the spokesperson. The public wants the head of the company to speak authoritatively about the incident and the concrete plans to resolve the problem. Practice your messages before going in front of the cameras, anticipate the most challenging questions you may receive, and determine how you’ll respond professionally, politely and non-defensively.
  • Stay calm. While it’s upsetting (and terrifying!) to be in a crisis situation, remain calm as you work to recover from the incident. Follow your crisis plan and communicate your key messages. Make certain that important audiences (including customers, prospects, employees, the media, vendors, health inspectors, etc.) recognize how hard you’re working to prevent similar incidents in the future.
  • Debrief after the crisis is over. Regardless of what happened and the severity of the situation, after any kind of incident, get the crisis management team together and debrief. Review your plan and see if there is any room for improvement.

It is critical to have a plan established just in case a crisis occurs. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but it’s always wise to be prepared. A crisis can hit any business at any time—how well you handle the situation could make a monumental difference in the court of public opinion.

Janice Buchanon, Steritech
FST Soapbox

Is Food Safety Part of Your Crisis Management Plan?

By Janice Buchanon
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Janice Buchanon, Steritech

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s been hard to miss the food safety-related headlines of the past month: E. coli in romaine lettuce, Salmonella-tainted eggs, norovirus-infected oysters sickening hundreds, and hepatitis A crises across several states, to name just a few. Since 1993 when an E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef at a fast food chain resulted in the deaths of several children, food safety has been on the radar of most major foodservice groups. Yet, surprisingly, food safety often doesn’t have its own crisis management plan within organizations.

At the 2018 Food Safety Consortium, don’t miss the Plenary Panel Discussion: Crisis Management: Don’t let that crisis sink your business!A Single Food Safety Crisis Can Ripple Across Your Operation

A food safety crisis can have tremendous impacts on an organization, leading to lost sales, negative media and social media publicity, unsavory online reviews, temporary restaurant closure, lost wages for your staff, increased scrutiny on other locations, lawsuits and more.

In a 2016 survey of more than 500 consumers, it was revealed that food safety incidents stick with consumers—and that can impact your reputation and your bottom line for much longer than you may realize.

  • Of the respondents, 62.5% said they were aware of a food safety incident at a restaurant in the last six months.
  • A foodborne illness outbreak isolated to a single location of a chain restaurant would prevent many of the survey respondents from dining at other locations in the chain; 34.1% of respondents said that if they knew about an outbreak at a single location, they’d avoid eating at other restaurants in the chain for more than six months. Worse, 17% said they’d never eat at the chain again.
  • If a foodborne illness outbreak is linked to multiple locations of a restaurant, consumers get even tougher. A whopping 37.5% would avoid eating at the entire chain for more than six months. There’s more disturbing news: 31.7% of the respondents said they’d never eat at that chain again.

Food safety incidents don’t have to be large scale to be significant and get into the consumer eye. They happen every day, in small scale, for many foodservice operations. Think about how the following incidents could impact food safety in your organization:

  • A power outage knocks out refrigeration for a single location for 12 hours
  • A boil water advisory is issued for a large city
  • A fire extinguisher is discharged in a kitchen to put out a small fire
  • A hurricane brings widespread flooding to a metropolitan area
  • A child whose parent asks about peanut allergies is served a food containing peanuts
  • A child becomes ill in a restaurant and vomits
  • A kitchen employee is diagnosed with hepatitis A and continues to work without disclosing the illness
  • A location is closed by the health department for a pest infestation
  • Several locations were supplied with a food item involved in a major recall for contamination

Each of these incidents is related to food safety. Would your employees, from the top down, know what actions to take in each specific situation? Most senior or executive-level C-suite personnel might know what to do, but that type of training often never makes it down to the operator level. When an incident does happen, it leaves location level management and employees scrambling to figure out what to do; often, the steps they take are incorrect, and can even exacerbate the situation.

What’s Trending in Food Safety Incidents
Over the last 24 months, we’ve helped many major brands in resolving crisis situations. The top five types of crisis incidents we’ve assisted with include:
– Potential Hepatitis A exposure
– Potential Norovirus outbreaks/exposure
– Health department closure
– Power outages
– Boil water advisory

Just as organizations prepare for other crises—fire drills, food shortages, staffing problems, active shooters—having crisis plans for food safety incidents can help an organization’s players know what to do when a food safety incident occurs. This goes beyond risk mitigation to actually knowing what steps to take when specific types of crisis happen. Proper planning for crisis management includes:

  • Identifying the most likely crisis situations and developing a plan of action for each of them.
  • Identifying who all the key players are going to be in the management of the crises, from C-suite to public relations to individual location responsibilities, and communicating that to all team members
  • Outlining all the steps to be taken in a crisis
  • Building familiarity with a defined plan for operators of an individual location
  • Presenting an opportunity to practice the plan before a crisis occurs (training)
  • Crisis management doesn’t end with the crisis; following any crisis, key stakeholders should review the crisis management plan for that incident to determine if updates or changes are needed

What to Look for in a Crisis Management Partner

Crisis management isn’t something to go alone if you don’t have internal expertise on your team. Crisis management goes beyond public relations—it should include training and step-by-step processes for each specific type of crisis. So what should you look for in a food safety crisis management partner?

  • A partner who has food safety knowledge and practical experience in dealing with crisis
  • A partner who has familiarity with the different types of crises you outline as critical for your organization
  • A partner who engages team members and can help you conduct training from the top down

Why Now?

Crisis management should be part of every organization’s plan already, but if it’s not, there are some key reasons to act now. A number of current events are having a substantial impact on the foodservice community, increasing the need for food safety crisis management plans.

  • Hepatitis A outbreaks. States including California, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana have had a significant increase in the number of hepatitis A cases reported. While this problem doesn’t start in the foodservice community, it does impact it—because as communities see higher cases, the chances of a food handler coming into contact with an ill person and contracting hepatitis A increase. Hepatitis A can be easily spread through food, so it’s critical that foodservice operations have a crisis management plan to deal with exposure incidents.
  • Norovirus. Norovirus-related outbreaks and foodservice operation closures—and the media exposure that goes along with them—have been on the rise for the last several years. Norovirus can create problems for operations in a number of ways, from employees working while sick, to customers getting sick in the establishment, to foods being contaminated with norovirus. Knowing how to respond to norovirus incidents is critically important, as norovirus outbreaks can lead to location closures, costly disinfection costs, unwanted publicity, lawsuits, and more.
  • Increasing turnover. With unemployment rates at record lows, foodservice operations are facing an employment crisis, unable to hire enough workers. This can increase the opportunity for food safety incidents as routine tasks and processes may be “short cut” during an employment shortage.
  • Delivery. The skyrocketing demand for delivery has led chains to quickly put together delivery plans. Crisis management should be addressed as part of any delivery plan, as there are any number of variables which could lead to potential incidents in delivery.

Don’t wait until a food safety incident occurs to figure out your crisis management plan. Start work today to ensure that when a food safety crisis occurs, your team and your brand can weather the storm.

Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

How to Button Up Your Supply Chain

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

Donald Bowersox, a long-time business professor at Michigan State University and one of the progenitors of modern supply chain management, once said, “The job of supply chain is clearly a senior management challenge, and it’s one that sits right alongside the other C-level jobs in the corporation. We may call it something different going forward, but basically it will remain the stewardship of moving products from the material origin points all the way through the process of conversion to the end consumers efficiently, effectively, and relevantly. That challenge is a big one and will continue to be for a long time. So I don’t see a next organizational evolution. Instead, I see the supply chain manager becoming more deeply involved in the corporate strategic initiatives and being part of the C-team management.”

Applying this approach to food safety in the supply chain has become more critical during the last few years as a result of regulatory, market and consumer pressures. At the start of this century, only 15 years ago, the food safety director rarely, if ever, interacted with the CEO. Many retailers didn’t even have such a position, or it was combined with quality control or loss prevention.

Now, not only does the top food safety manager have the ear of the CEO, he or she is engaged with all senior executives. Part of this is the result of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which holds those officers personally liable for a wide variety of preventable incidents. Likely bigger causes for the shift are the changing market and the changing consumer, which both relate directly to the company’s brand reputation. And in the food business, everything starts and stops with the supply chain.

Why? Because the supply chain is ground zero for the failures that are responsible for causing food safety problems. And the supply chain is where food safety problems are prevented. It is the choke point or series of choke points that allow or prevent spoiled and tainted product from getting to the consumer. It is also the process by which that unsaleable product is reclaimed so as to ensure it never enters the marketplace.

It is critical for the food safety manager to work closely with the merchandisers and the store operations teams, as they have the relationships with suppliers and work to ensure that standards for everything from ingredients to production are met with every shipment. But it’s even more critical for those professionals to work closely with the supply chain team to determine weak links in the system and address those pressure points before they cause real damage. Without food safety-supply chain collaboration, the risks to a company’s reputation multiply. With it, the likelihood of a food safety incident reaching consumers diminishes tremendously.

It’s becoming clearer every day—if you don’t button up your supply chain, somebody else, namely the government or the consumer, will and the results won’t be pleasant.